This week Showtime agreed to an extended television deal with the Strikeforce promotion that will ensure they stick around until at least 2014, but they have a lot of work on their hands if they want people to care one way or another.
Last night’s Melendez Vs Masvidal event was one of the weaker events of the year for the promotion in terms of entertainment, and with a noticable lack of promotion around the show there seemed to be very little buzz about it pre, during or post-fight.
That’s a big concern as due to the fact that a number of their marquee stars jumped ship to the UFC prior to the new TV deal, this card actually featured a number of fighters like lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez and female 145lb title holder Cris ‘Cyborg’ Santos who are now being looked upon to deliver the star power for the promotion.
Unfortunately the event was not the only bump in the road recently. Recent Strikeforce Challengers events struggled to find either a live or televised audience so it’s no surprise to see they’ve also been scrapped, while uncertainty over the promotion’s future appeared to also hit their last big show featuring the heavyweight GP semi-finals in September as it bombed in the ratings department.
Getting those fans who appear to have lost interest in Strikeforce back could prove tricky.
The biggest problem they face is the lack of strength in depth in their divisions. They’ve already announced that they’ll be scrapping the heavyweight division later in 2012 which is understandable given that Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum are now with the UFC while Fedor Emelianenko and Brett Rogers also left during the course of this year.
It’s a tough blow given that at the start of this year Strikeforce were going all in on their heavyweight division, stating that it was better than the UFC’s and putting their money where there mouth is by putting on a major heavyweight Grand-Prix. It’s quite something to sit back and take stock of how things have unfolded since then.
Trying to put a positive spin on it, Scott Coker says it’ll now give them the opportunity to focus on their other divisions, but the reality is that they are not in great shape either.
For instance, after defeating Jorge Masvidal last night Melendez is left with no suitable contenders whatsoever beyond KJ Noons who’s lost two of his last three fights, while the highly touted Justin Wilcox’s hype train was derailed when he was KO’d in 13 seconds at the same event.
Meanwhile, the welterweight title is still vacant after Nick Diaz left and while Tyrone Woodley at 9-0 is someone that could be a future champion it’s hard to find a qualified candidate to put against him to fight for the strap.
Middleweight is a division Strikeforce does still have some level of talent left in. Current champion Luke Rockhold is an emerging force, former champion ‘Jacare’ Souza is very talented and veterans like Robbie Lawler and Tim Kennedy are also solid contenders.
A lot of these guys have already faced each other though, and we’re in a slightly bizarre situation now where former UFC fighter Keith Jardine, who holds just a single draw as a Strikeforce fighter and has just two wins in his last eight fights, is going to make his 185lb debut in January and immediately fight Rockhold for the title.
Then there’s the light-heavyweight division which also took a hit with the loss of their champion Dan Henderson, though does have some good fighters with the likes of Gegard Mousasi, ‘King Mo’ Lawal and Rafael Cavalcante still on their books.
Again the problem is that these guys have already fought each other, so unless there’s an influx of quality opposition coming soon then the division is quickly going to become stale.
Finally there’s the woman’s divisions, and the 145lb weight class is arguably the worst of the lot, with the promotions struggling to find any suitable challenges for ‘Cyborg’ and often resorting to feeding her fighters who simply don’t belong in the cage with her.
The 135lb class has a little more talent though and their best bet would be too attempt to consolidate them if possible, though there’s no guarantee ‘Cyborg’ could healthily make that cut.
The obvious answer to all this if Zuffa are serious about making Strikeforce work is to drop in some existing UFC fighters into their roster to strengthen it up.
The UFC is about to embark on an exceptionally busy 2012 however and needs all hands on deck. Dana White has also implied that they don’t want Strikeforce to appear to be a “feeder league” so they don’t intend to pass fighters who don’t cut it in the UFC onto them which in all honesty sounds like they are shooting themselves in the foot to me.
There’s also talk that UFC fighters could go over to Strikeforce for one-off bouts which would be intriguing and generate interest, but it’s a flawed idea as if the Strikeforce fighter gets beaten it’s only going to further emphasize the weaknesses in their roster and damage their reputation.
Despite all this Dana White appears to be upbeat about the promotion’s future and given his past successes you certainly wouldn’t bet against him righting the ship and getting Strikeforce firing on all cyclinders again, but as things stand I can’t help but feel concerned that it’s best days may now be behind it.